Having grown up in the second poorest nation in North America in the 1970s and 1980s, Luisa Havens Gerardo has been guided by something her mother taught her as a young girl in Honduras that would ultimately guide her career path.
“From a very early age, it was instilled in me that education is a currency,” recalls Havens Gerardo. “My saving grace was having a mother who was a school teacher and seeing the respect that educators earned by helping to improve the lives of others.”
“From my early career experiences as an elementary school teacher in Honduras to my later roles in strategic enrollment management, education has always been a guiding force in my life.”
Havens Gerardo’s journey through education brought her to Virginia Tech in August 2017 as vice provost for enrollment management. She is leading the development, articulation, and implementation of a multidimensional enrollment management strategy that aligns with Virginia Tech’s long-range strategic goals.
“Since arriving at Virginia Tech, I have spent a lot of my time helping people understand just how complex enrollment management is and how many facets there are to what we do,” said Havens Gerardo. “I really wanted to learn as much as I could about the perceptions people had of enrollment management and then try to reform those perceptions to better align with the role we actually serve in growing the university.”
Guiding the campus’ perceptions of strategic enrollment management comes from Havens Gerardo’s many career experiences in nearly every step and progression in the process. Her first experience in enrollment management came as a regional college recruiter for the University of Idaho, where she had just completed her master’s degree.
Located in a shared higher education center in southeastern Idaho, Havens Gerardo assumed the responsibility for building a recruitment office that could support a wide range of admissions and enrollment management services.
“Since I was starting an office from scratch located hundreds of miles away from the main campus, I had to learn all aspects of the enrollment management process,” explains Havens Gerardo. “That experience of having to learn everything from the ground up so that I could help the students and their families really helped form my enrollment management and student service foundation.”
In addition to gaining a broad appreciation for the complexities of enrollment management and student services, Havens Gerardo’s background helped her understand the importance of creating and supporting opportunities for a diverse population of students.
“Southeastern Idaho is a highly diverse and agricultural region that is home to a lot of different people and cultures,” said Havens Gerardo. “I understood the importance of being able to advocate for the needs of these diverse groups of people who had a variety of different interests and characteristics.”
After a few short years of working with students supporting their pursuit of higher education, Havens Gerardo knew she had found her professional calling. Her success in the remote recruitment office led to promotions to administrative and leadership positions on Idaho’s main campus.
Havens Gerardo’s enrollment management success at the University of Idaho propelled her to senior leadership positions at Texas A&M-Kingsville and the University of Texas-El Paso. In 2012, she was hired to lead Florida International University’s (FIU) enrollment management division, where she executed a complete redesign of their strategic admissions and data-management processes.
After a few years at FIU, Virginia Tech’s public commitment to provide opportunities to underserved and underrepresented student populations drew Havens Gerardo to an opening for vice provost for enrollment management. As a product of and advocate for the land-grant mission, she also knew that Virginia Tech, also a land-grant institution, was a university where she could make a difference.
“I felt like Virginia Tech already knew who I was and that we shared a DNA related to my land-grant experiences and background,” said Havens Gerardo. “I had spent the past 12 years at minority-serving institutions and found the impacts and advancements that could be made around inclusion and diversity at those institutions were nothing close to the potential impacts that could be made at Virginia Tech. Minority-serving institutions alone will not generate the type of transformational impact that the 21st century requires.”
Through her hands-on and experiential approach to enrollment management leadership, Havens Gerardo has built a national reputation that recently resulted in her election as president-elect of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO). She is the first Latina president elected to AACRAO and is Virginia Tech’s first AACRAO board member.
In leading Virginia Tech’s enrollment management division, Havens Gerardo is learning as much as she can about processes as they exist and, whenever possible, personally experiencing them through the eyes of prospective students and their families.
“I have personally sat in on information sessions, open houses, and campus visits to get a first-hand perspective on how these experiences are contributing to our growth strategies,” explains Havens Gerardo. “I also talk to the students and parents and take that data back to our staff so that we can continually improve our engagement programs.
“The use of quality data is important in our decision-making to ensure we are building strong processes and strategies. Experiencing these from the student or parent standpoint helps us determine where we can make it better. This is what ‘student-centered’ means to me.”
Havens Gerardo said she expects the same hands-on approach from her team and wants them to fully understand how Virginia Tech is serving from the perspective of the student and family.
As Virginia Tech continues to move forward in pursuit of its Beyond Boundaries vision, the transparency of the university’s enrollment goals around inclusion and diversity is something that Havens Gerardo sees as a significant competitive advantage. She also is encouraged by the clear and confident messaging coming directly from President Tim Sands and his executive leadership around this vision.
“It’s an amazing time to be a part of this university,” said Havens Gerardo. “The commitment that is being made to providing access to many while creating excellence for all is so strong and is part of everything we do. Access and excellence are not mutually exclusive goals for Virginia Tech.
“Virginia Tech is ready to make changes and to have broad and diverse impacts in enrollment management that will be felt for years to come. It’s something I am very excited to be leading.”